Friday, February 11, 2011

Doors close, doors open

One of the nicest results of this week was Brendan Powell's 16-year-old son, Brendan jr, riding his first winner, with the proud father being the trainer. It was lovely to see the pair of them interviewed at Southwell on ATR together afterwards. This would have been a lovely moment under any circumstances because Brendan sr is one of life's good guys (and I'm prepared to bet that it will be a case of like father, like son) but it was particularly nice to see it happen when it did, following so soon after Brendan being declared bankrupt. We're getting quite accustomed to trainers giving up the unequal struggle; but, even so, reading of Brendan's financial woes was rather a shock. It is not that long since he retired from race-riding, and after a very successful career as a jockey he must have retired with quite a lot of money in the bank, particularly as he has always been a prudent and unextravagant man. And, on top of this, he has actually become a very successful trainer anyway. It appears that his problems might not be as serious as the fact of being declared bankrupt would immediately suggest - witness the fact that the BHA has given him permission to continue training - and let's hope that that is indeed the case.

We have, of course, read recently of Hugh Collingridge and Paul Howling both calling it a day here, and of Brendan Duke being forced into insolvency in Lambourn. Paul remains on the scene, having transferred his string to Jane Chapple-Hyam's stable and having joined it as assistant, which is nice because he is a very pleasant part of Newmarket's furniture; but Hugh, I believe, has moved to take up premature retirement in Norfolk, and Newmarket (and particularly Exning) won't be the same without him. It was thanks to Hugh's kindness that I was emboldened to take the plunge to start training. He trained the first winner I whom owned, Witchway North who won at Fontwell in February 1994 and whom I used to ride out from Hugh's stable every morning before I went to my day job at Wood Ditton Stud, and it was thanks to the confidence which I had gained from her victory that I was rash enough to quit that job at the end of that year and apply for a trainer's license. And now I'm training in Hugh's old yard, into which I moved in 1997 when he moved out to Exning. Hugh has been a large and benevolent presence for most of my racing life so, while the announcement of his retirement didn't come completely out of the blue, it was certainly news which came as a bit of a jolt.


More positive news from this parish, though, is that we'll soon be welcoming a new trainer to Exeter Road: Charlie McBride, who has hitherto being training in Hamilton Road. This is extremely good news as he (pictured here this morning in Rayes Lane, alongside former long-time Geoff Wragg employee Neil Robe, who is a member of Charlie's small but extremely good team) and his wife Bev are just the sort of people one wants as neighbours. They have bought Exeter House from the bank which repossessed it when Jonathan Jay disappeared off the face of the earth last summer, and they are currently busy getting the 17-box yard and house ship-shape enough so that they and the horses can take up residence. Their task is not quite on a par with cleaning out the Augean stables, but it wouldn't be far behind - but work seems to be continuing apace, so I'd imagine that they might have moved in by the start of the new Flat season. Charlie's stable has fared extremely well in recent years, most notably in 2010 when he trained his first Group winner, Miss Starlight winning a Group Three race in Germany at Hamburg. She was one of three stakes-class horses whom he trained last year (Audacity Of Hope and Blue Maiden being the others) which is a remarkable achievement for a very small string of inexpensive horses. I hope and expect that he will continue to flourish from his new base because his success is nothing more than a fair reflection of his skills - skills based on a thorough grounding with Bruce Hobbs, for whom I believe he looked after Scintillating Air, third in Shergar's Derby in 1981. Bruce Hobbs had retired by the time I came to Newmarket in 1987, and Charlie was at that stage working as head lad to Hobbs' former assistant Lord John Fitzgerald in Albert House. He subsequently started training for a while, jacked that in and became head lad in this street for Willie Musson (next door, of course, to his new home) and then resumed training, with remarkable success. You'll have gathered from previous chapters that I get pleasure from any success for our little enclave (Dave Morris, Don Cantillon and Willie Musson being here in Exeter Road, and Mark Tompkins being just around the corner in Rayes Lane) so I hope that our little corner of town will have even more regular causes for celebration once Charlie has joined us here.

Let's hope, in fact, that we have cause for celebration when Asterisk runs tomorrow afternoon. However, with a maiden jumping from stall 16 in a 16-runner handicap around Lingfield's tricky AW circuit, one can't be any more than hopeful. But travel in hope we shall.

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